Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On the Boycott

Mike the Mad Biologist questions the wisdom of the boycott, and saying Maybe Boycotting Kansas Wasn't Such a Good Idea After All? In regard to Jodi Wilgoren's glossary, he raises the point that reporters didn't have scientists to educate them:
At this point, some may ask, "why didn't she do her homework, and ask scientists their thoughts?" After all, the points I make in my letter have been made many times by scientists; they're not exactly novel, original, or very "illuminating".

I don't think this is a particularly fair or realistic attitude. I'm certain that Wilgoren knows more about certain things than I do, and if I had to come in and learn them on the fly, I would be relatively ignorant too (note: I don't mean ignorant as a pejorative, as in "Jane, you ignorant slut", I mean it only as a descriptor; I am ignorant of a great many things, just not biology). It's unrealistic and unfair to expect a reporter to have the depth of knowledge that a professionally trained biologist has. That's why I think we should have shown up–to get our views and the science out there. If there's an intellectual vacuum, the scientific defeatists will try to fill it.

Tell me why I'm wrong.

There were scientists at the hearings, and they held press conferences every evening. The press conferences were well attended, and scientists were always hanging out in the lobby. I didn't see Wilgoren on Saturday, and others can speak to her presence on other days.

If she wanted to know what people thought of methodological naturalism, she needed only ask the scientist standing next to her. The same is true of everything. If she really wanted to do a nice, honest (note that I didn't say balanced), she could find a scientist or philosopher of science in New York or Chicago (whereever she's based), and ask them, not for a quote, but to make sure she didn't make any dumb errors.

That's not what most reporters do. They are taught not to let sources see a piece before publication. But science writers are taught the opposite, to always run a piece past their scientific experts to catch any dumb errors.

There are scientists in every city. The ID people sent their A-team to Kansas, and we made sure a philosopher of science and various scientists were there. Journalists need to learn to get in touch with a scientist who can help them out on these issues.

Mike had a nice exchange with Ms. Wilgoren. I've had nice interactions with several reporters, helping them see how best to understand the arguments each side makes.

As scientists, we should cultivate those relationships. Journalists should too. I don't need to be quoted, I want the journalist to understand. If the journalists understand, they don't need to say "Josh Rosenau says blah blah blah," they can just write "Blah blah blah." And that's better for readers and for journalists. Readers aren't left having to judge between two warring voices, they get the journalists to sort through the warring factions. Journalists will write pieces that are more accurate, and feel less like pasted together interviews.